In Hardik Mehta‘s new film, Roohi, two kidnappers (Rajkummar Rao and Varun Sharma) get more than they bargained for when they discover that their victim, Roohi (Janhvi Kapoor), is possessed by the ghost of a deadly spirit. Ahead of the film’s release, Rao and Janhvi Kapoor talk about the film’s feminist subtext and the non-stereotypical approach to playing a character with a speech impediment.

Anupama Chopra: In the last couple of years, there has been this sort of emergence of what I would call the  feminist supernatural. It started with I think Anushka Sharma’s Pari, then there was Phillauri, there was Stree then there was Bulbbul where the horror was not really a chudail, but actually the patriarchy. In this film, you’re playing a character that needs to be married to be cured. Is this a step away from those kinds of movies?

Janhvi Kapoor: No, not at all. We have not given away a lot in the trailer, but we do address patriarchy in more ways than one in our film. Our focus is more on a woman’s relationship with herself and we allude to the fact  that in societies all over the world, the woman’s role is usually looked at in terms of marriage. So that’s part of our narrative. When you think of horror films and when you think of ghosts and demons, it’s always scarier when there is a woman who is possessed, and I think what makes it scarier is if there is a lot of pain in that woman’s life and, more often than not, that pain is caused by patriarchal societies.

AC: No, that is true. It’s a very interesting observation. I think it’s because the women are so contained, then they become something supernatural and then really flourish.

JK: The horror comes from the suffering instigated by the way that society is sometimes. So I think it’s a reflection of everything. 

AC: Rajkummar, your character has a speech impediment. Hindi cinema has usually stereotypically used speech impediments for comedy. There has been criticism of this as something that’s insensitive and not funny. What’s your take on this?

Rajkummar Rao: Well, it’s a comedy film. It is meant for entertainment with a subtle social message attached to it. I’ve done Stree and I wanted to make this character very different from the one I played in that film because eventually the plan is to combine all these films and make it into this bigger universe. So there might be a film in which Vicky, my character from Stree, and Bhaura will meet and I wanted them to be very different from one other. So I thought that, just to make Bhaura more interesting, I added this trait – he can’t say ‘t’ and he says ‘k’ instead. I’ve known people (with this speech impediment) and I’ve seen kids who can’t pronounce one particular letter in Hindi. So it’s very natural for the character and I haven’t intended it as buffoonery. It’s a part of his personality and he’s very comfortable with it. He’s not trying to make fun of his own speech issues. There’s a scene in which Roohi asks him, ‘Do you have a problem speaking?’ The way he helps her understand is pretty sweet.

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